By Hanna Neier, Senior Content Editor
The craft beer renaissance is fully underway, with upstart breweries in all five boroughs. Brett Taylor and Tyler March hope to get a piece of the action with their brew, Wild East, which uses a unique strain of yeast. Recently Taylor shared the duo's plans for entering the market.
HM: There’s recently been a huge jump in the number of craft brewers. Isn’t the market saturated?
Today, the craft beer scene is thriving in New York City, yet it still does not rank in the top 10 biggest craft-beer markets in the United States. There is massive room for growth. Relative to many smaller west coast cities, which have far more breweries per capita than New York City, there’s considerable room for growth in original concepts.
Specifically, there is a gaping hole in New York City for the beer we plan to manufacture, which is a traditionally-made, creative, modern sour beer using the yeast Brettanomyces. As the market currently stands, demand for quality wild, sour and barrel-aged beer vastly outweighs the supply, especially in New York City.
HM: What makes Wild East Brewery unique?
Wild East will be one of the few breweries in the greater New York City market to focus on sour and farmhouse beers, alongside American IPAs pales ales and other popular styles. To most aficionados, sour beers are the height of beer geekdom because they are arguably the most refined and sophisticated styles, requiring the most atypical production procedures and longest aging times.
We’re hoping to develop a house wild yeast—a Brooklyn-captured Brettanomyces strain that could become the distinguishing feature of our products. We plan to be the industry leader in the understanding, use, and exploration of the Brettanomyces yeast. Our two flagship beers will feature the yeast in ways that no other brewery in New York has ever before.
And if we include New York State malts, hops, water, yeast, and bacteria, we will be able to market products as 100% local.
HM: How much money do you need to raise to get the brewery off the ground?
We’re looking to raise $1.1 million from investors and an SBA loan to establish operations. Investment will be in exchange for equity. We’re exploring other types of revenue as well, such as a CSA model that would bring in operating capital and establish consistent operating capital before beer is actually produced. Others have used it to create a sort of founders’ club for early fans
HM: How do you intend to make the maximum impact with the least amount of capital?
That’s the challenge for every startup, especially in New York City where real estate and overhead are so high. Wild East will be a 15-barrel brewhouse (one barrel = 31 gallons) and we will brew double batches into 30-barrel fermenters. We’re planning to sell 1,100-1,200 barrels the first year, and expand to 1,500 in year two. Our beer will be sold largely on draft, and as much as possible, in our tasting room. We do plan monthly can releases, using one of the mobile canning companies. That’s pretty much a given with NYC-area breweries of our size.
Eventually more expensive, premium offerings that require aging, fruit additions, and barrel aging, will be sold in smaller one sixth-barrel kegs at a higher profit margin. This strategy will enable the company to get into the local market quickly, increase the speed of turnover and establish a strong presence among other local and higher-end beers at the city’s prominent beer bars.
HM: What’s one of your largest start-up expenses?
Real estate is definitely a big expense. We are looking for a 5,000- to 10,000-square-foot mixed/light-industrial space in Brooklyn or Queens. We aim to find a space that will accommodate our needs for brewery space, barrel room, a tasting room plus modest room to expand. We also want the location to have ample foot traffic and be close to other bars and restaurants. We’re targeting our location search in the Brooklyn neighborhoods of Bushwick, Crown Heights, Bedford Stuyvesant, Gowanus, and Sunset Park.
HM: What experience do you bring to this project?
I am a trained brewer having graduated from the American Brewers Guild in 2015 . These days I work as a brewer at Keg & Lantern, a great little brewpub in Greenpoint, and also as a part time brewer at Strong Rope Brewery in Brooklyn. I started in 2011 as an intern at Sixpoint Brewery in Brooklyn. As a homebrewer I have a lot of experience brewing with Brettanomyces.
My partner Tyler is also an established homebrewer with some commercial brewing experience. Plus for the past 12 years, he’s worked as a creative director at Manhattan’s leading advertising agencies, creating marketing campaigns for countless national and international brands.
HM: What about bottling?
Sometime during the first year, we plan to begin by hand-bottling large-format bottles, which we’ll sell through the tasting room. Eventually we’d like to get our bottles into high-end restaurants like Gramercy Tavern and Luksus, top craft beer bars such as The Jeffrey, Torst, and Proletariat, and stores like Whole Foods, Alphabet City Beer Co. and Top Hops. Wild East will also have draft accounts at top craft-beer bars. The economics of beer sales require us to sell as much beer as possible from our tasting room, so we’ll try to sell as much of our bottled offerings as possible through the tasting room, where you know, you can also grab a four-pack of cans, and a pint or two while you’re there.
HM: What’s the biggest risk you face opening up Wild East?
The biggest thing I’m worried about right now is getting the raw ingredients we’ll need from Day 1, at prices that won’t cost an arm and a leg. Hops can be a feast or famine business, but for first-year breweries you end up having to buy a lot of them on the spot market, and that can be tremendously expensive. The popular Citra hop, for example, can go for $25 a pound on the spot market. But you might be able to contract for a given amount for considerably less.
HM: Do you have an exit strategy?
Tyler and I don’t want to be taking brewhouse shifts for the rest of our days, and being business owners, that won’t be the best use of our time. But we plan to oversee quality control and analysis, blending sour beer and being the faces of the company. I’ll always be very hands on—that’s my job as a founder. Ultimately it’s our vision that makes Wild East what it will be. Down the road the company would consider selling some equity or a majority stake to a like-minded larger craft brewery. That brewery would need to share the same goals for quality, craft, and longevity.